PHOTOS BY CHRIS FARAONE
According to his schedule, last Thursday evening, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh visited the Old South Meeting House in Downtown Crossing to “offer remarks at the commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the Boston Massacre.” Unfortunately, he was more than five hours too late to hear the remarks offered to him and other powerful people one block away, at the seal marking the site where it is often said that public sentiment against the ruling crown first seriously fomented.
That afternoon, about two dozen people from various Native American backgrounds circled the brass seal outside the Old State House. Along with friends and allies from groups including the New Democracy Coalition, speakers paid tribute to Crispus Attucks, who was the first person shot and killed by British troops on March 5, 1770, by extension making him the first casualty of the American Revolution. Organizers of last week’s event noted the parallel between authoritarian violence then and now, with Jean-Luc Pierite of the North American Indian Center of Boston reading off names of Native American and African American people who were killed by police in 2019. “What happened 250 years ago is happening every day in this country,” Pierite said.
Over the course of an hour I learned a lot about Attucks, who was a runaway slave and seaman with African as well as native ancestry. Mwalim, a Mashpee Wampanoag, told the crowd, “Crispus Attucks was originally acknowledged as a Wampanoag, until they needed him for the abolitionist movement. Then they went to the other side of his family and erased that he was a Wampanoag.”
And that’s not all that’s been erased.
Along with pride in their past, those gathered at the Massacre site also detailed current struggles. On Beacon Hill, the fight continues: to “ensure Native American funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony held in governmental or non-profit collections are not sold for profit”; to “prohibit Native American mascots in Massachusetts public schools”; and to change the state flag and seal, which currently feature the sword of noted genocidal patriarch Myles Standish swinging over the head of a Native American. As Pierite said, “The figure is a composite of three native persons—including the skeleton of a Massachusett person who was excavated in an archaeological dig.”
Meanwhile, Native Americans are trying to prevent further reckless unearthing. “The whole tribe is heavily involved in protecting open spaces,” said Faries Gray, a member of the Massachusett tribe. “There’s a lot of money being thrown at the Harbor Islands now—they want to put hotels there and all kinds of things, but there were burials all over there, so that’s a battle we’re going to have.”
Halfway through the event, the group walked toward Faneuil Hall, itself another tragic symbol of how little has changed in Boston over the past 300 years.
“We are calling upon the people in [Boston City Hall], who are our friends and allies on many issues, but not on this one,” said Barry Lawton, who is of Cherokee descent. “My [ancestors] were bought and sold like furniture and treated like animals, and Peter Faneuil is the person who brought it to Boston.
“What are you fighting for? We elected you to be our voice. How can you be our voice if you can’t hear us? We are on a higher ground with this issue, and we are not going to lose.”
CHRIS FARAONE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.